NEW YORK (AP) — In the battle to win shoppers' dollars, small companies are finding creative ways to be where the sales are.
GSC Products sells nasal spray in a hardware store to capture sales from people working on projects that stir up dust. Simplicity Sofas pays previous customers to let potential buyers come into their homes to see sofas that can only be purchased online.
Small businesses don't often have the advertising and marketing budgets that larger companies do. That can put them at a disadvantage when they're trying to compete against bigger brands. And fighting for the limited amount of space available on store shelves can be tough and costly. So innovative owners are finding a way around these challenges by placing their products where their target customers go and by using nontraditional sales techniques.
"There is a lot of competition and it's difficult to break through the clutter and the noise," says Ted Hurlbut, a retail consultant who works with small companies. "You need to be creative."
A look at what some small businesses are doing:
BUILDING THE CUSTOMER BASE
COMPANY: GSC Products, Scotia, N.Y.
PRODUCT: Sinus Plumber, nasal spray containing pepper and horseradish.
OFFBEAT SALES CHANNEL: Hardware and automotive stores and garden centers. Owner Wayne Perry sells the nasal spray in nearly 1,000 stores that stock it near the cashier, where many customers find products that are called impulse buys. He would have to pay more to get his products in the most visible spots on the cold and allergy remedy shelves in drug and health food store chains.
HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? Hardware store owners were reading about Sinus Plumber in news stories and contacted Perry. GSC began shipping to them.
"They were outselling all of the health food stores we were in. A couple of cases a month, really unheard of for a single store," Perry says.
It turns out that those retailers are a logical place to sell nasal spray. People who use paint and chemicals and stir up dust trigger allergies and irritate their sinuses, Perry says. Some hardware retailers also own automotive stores and added Sinus Plumber to those shops.
NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT: Of GSC's $350,000 in revenue last year, $90,000 came from hardware and automotive stores. They sell 40 percent more Sinus Plumber than traditional stores.
COMPANY: Simplicity Sofas, High Point, N.C.
PRODUCTS: Furniture including sofas and chairs.
OFFBEAT SALES CHANNEL: Customers' homes. Simplicity's furniture is sold only over the Internet. Some customers want to see and try out the sofas and chairs. So owner Jeff Frank contacts people who have already bought his furniture, and asks them if they'll let a prospective customer take a look. Most people say yes. In return, Frank sends them a $50 check.
WHERE DID THEY GET THE IDEA? From customers. Several called Frank and volunteered. He decided to ask others.
SEEING IS BUYING: About 10 percent of prospective customers ask to see the furniture, and 10 percent of Simplicity's sales come from in-person encounters. The strategy spurs word-of-mouth buzz. Happy customers tell other people about the process. That has led to more sales.
Jim Hamren, who recently tried out a Simplicity sofa in a customer's home, says it was a little strange to shop in someone's house. But it was better than going to a store, because he and his wife could see how owner Rebecca Gwynne had moved her sofa past a tight space.
"She had to go up a narrow staircase. When we saw that, we said, 'if you can do this, we can certainly get it into ours,'" Hamren says.